College should be free

College should be free

There was little that was surprising in the Supreme Court’s
recent decision banning race-conscious college
admissions. The court’s ultra-conservative majority had
been expected to make a ruling implicitly stating that the
lingering effects of generations of overt racism don’t matter
very much.

But it was the court’s ruling in another case — striking
down President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan
— that may be more detrimental to young black and brown
adults. Because of the severe wealth gap, black and
Latino Americans struggle more to pay for college. That’s
one of the reasons that fewer people of color attain college

As education activists plot new strategies to ensure that
college campuses are diverse, here’s something to
consider: the vast majority of college and universities
accept most of their applicants, according to the Pew
Research Center. Of 1,364 four-year colleges and
universities that Pew surveyed, only 17 admitted fewer
than 10 percent of applicants in 2017.

That group includes, of course, the Ivy League, which
educates many of the leaders who end up controlling
important government and commercial institutions. That’s
why there is such controversy over admissions to those

Still, there is much to be said for ensuring that black and
brown students complete four-year-degrees from less-
prestigious institutions, which, after all, educate the vast
majority of Americans with college degrees. Few
historically white institutions are as diverse as they should
be, and that includes state flagship universities.

Broadly speaking, the United States remains a working-
class country. About 40 percent of Americans over the age
of 25 have four-year degrees, according to Pew. But there
are clear racial disparities. About 61 percent of Asian-
American adults have four-year degrees, while 42 percent
of whites do, along with 28 percent of blacks and 21
percent of Latinos.

As the workplace demands more technological proficiency,
the economy needs better educated workers. It’s important
that high school graduates go on to receive at least some
post-secondary training. Those with four-year degrees
earn more money than those without them, and they are
also less likely to be unemployed, Pew notes.

One of the surest ways to narrow the wealth gap, then, is
to narrow the education gap. But lack of funds is among
the major reasons that black and Latino students don’t
enter college and don’t complete degrees or certificates if
they do. Even those who receive Pell grants —available to
less affluent students — still don’t have enough money to
cover the costs of a college education. Furthermore, many
of them are unprepared for the rigorous studies that
colleges require.

In a nation as wealthy as this, public colleges ought to
offer free tuition. But the state of our politics suggests we
are a long way away from that ideal. Indeed, many state
legislatures provide less funding for their public colleges
than they did in the 1990s — which is one of the reasons
that students today are burdened with more of the costs.
But that’s no reason not to start campaigning for free
tuition, starting with community colleges. Twenty states
already offer free tuition at their two-year community

colleges to in-state residents who meet certain
requirements. The remaining 30 states should do the

They should also offer free tuition to technical schools for
those students without the interest or aptitude for college.
Many technical schools offer top-notch training in an array
of blue-collar fields that pay good wages.

While community colleges often offer remedial courses for
students who lack preparation for rigorous post-secondary
work, there is also much work to be done in ensuring that
students of color are better prepared. While George Bush
and Barack Obama emphasized public school reform
during their presidencies, that seems to have dropped off
the public agenda. Parents worry, rightly, about school
violence, while many conservative politicians stoke
controversies over teaching black history and gender

If we are ever to become a more just and equal society,
we have to do a better job of educating every child. The
Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmation action doesn’t deter